On Sunday, CMO Professor Chris Whitty confirmed that 12 further patients in England had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 35 - increasing from 19 on Friday.
However, doctors have warned that a lack of official support in helping to provide PPE, such as protective masks, is putting staff and their patients at risk of infection, with a south Cumbria doctor warning her surgery has only two masks.
Doctors have also called for updated training to protect against infection and avoid a potential staffing crisis if doctors are forced to self-isolate.
BMA representative body chair Dr Helena McKeown said: 'GPs are the first line of defence in the NHS, so it’s imperative that we have access to the right protection against COVID-19 as we work to contain the infection.
'We believe that surgeries should be being delivered supplies and equipment from the NHS - for example, suitable masks - rather than trying to source our own individually; something which can take time, leaving us and our communities at risk.
'The UK still has relatively few cases of the virus so far, but this is not a time to be complacent and we are continuing to reiterate our concerns to NHS England. All preventive steps must be taken, so that we constantly seek to be one step ahead of the next possible development – not only for the sake of those working on the frontline, but also, and most importantly, our patients.'
More than 20 practices have been forced to close temporarily over coronavirus fears, with two practices in Brighton among the first to close.
Last month GPs were advised to wear surgical masks and other protective equipment if contact with a suspected coronavirus case is unavoidable.
But doctors have warned that they do not have suitable equipment to protect their practices from the coronavirus infection.
South Cumbria GP Dr Alison Johnston signalled her alarm at a lack of support from the government, asking the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock on Twitter what he was doing to protect healthcare staff.
Dear @MattHancock what are you doing to protect GPs from coronavirus outbreak? Currently we have 2 masks for the whole surgery and no full PPE or training in how to use PPE. What will happen to our patients when we catch it?— Alison J (@dralisonj) March 1, 2020
She revealed in other comments that her practice had tried to buy more masks but had been unable to due to reduced availability.
Worcester GP Dr Alex Brennan echoed concerns about a lack of protective equipment for GPs, saying she would ‘keep washing [her hands] and [keep her] fingers crossed’.
yep GP here. no protection provided at all for us. no masks etc. will just keep washing my hands and crossing my fingers!— Alex Brennan (@ospreyalex) March 2, 2020
The BMA wrote to NHS England in February highlighting potential 'procurement problems' for practices around the cost and availability of supplies and equipment.
Prime minister Boris Johnson will today hold a COVID-19 Cobra meeting to finalise the government ‘battle plan’ to tackle the spread of the virus which originated in China.
Measures for preparing for an increase in cases include looking at emergency registration of retired health professionals and emergency indemnity coverage for health care workers to provide care or diagnostic services.
In new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for general practice, GP surgeries have been asked to 'designate and prepare' a suitable space or spaces for patient isolation.
GPs have also been instructed to display patient information posters in places where they 'can be seen before patients enter the premises’ as well as inside surgeries.